The confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers creates a great bird watching spot. When migrating through this area birds follow the rivers like we follow a map on a long trip, finding their way to the many conservation areas in the confluence region. The habitat that has been set aside for wildlife at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, state conservation areas and parks, and bird sanctuaries provide a place for birds to stop and rest on their journey. From mid-February to late May you can see any of the more than 200 species of birds that either live here year round or make a stop on their way to nesting areas further north.
Here are some tips to watch for birds this spring:
Before you go-
• Grab a bird field guide. Field guides can be found fairly inexpensive on Amazon or at any bookstore, or check one out from your local library. We also have a bunch for visitors to check out at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).
• Find some binoculars. Borrow some from a friend, pick up an inexpensive pair at a store or loan a pair from Two Rivers NWR. Light weight binoculars are nice for longer walks and when bird watching in the woods you don’t need binoculars with a very strong power. Stronger power binoculars are helpful when watching eagles and waterfowl.
• Call a friend. Ask a friend to come along so that you can share the experience or make it a family outing.
• Download an app. A number of bird apps are available to help you identify what you’re seeing. They also have recordings of bird calls so you can identify birds by the sounds they make.
In the field-
• Early morning. Early morning is the best time to see birds because this is when they are most active.
• Edges are best. Standing at the edge of one habitat as it meets another will help in spotting birds. Birds tend to fly from trees out to a field, road or the water and return to the trees for safety.
• Create a life list. Birding is kind of like a scavenger hunt. Start recording the birds you see and make goals for the ones you’d like to find. Read about them in your field guide to learn about the best habitat to find them in and make a trip to a nature center, state park or Two Rivers NWR to see if you can add it to your list.
• Don’t try to get too close. Keep your distance from the birds while you’re watching them. Giving birds their space helps you watch them longer so that you can make sure you’re able identify the bird and check it off your list.
Cortney Solum is the Visitor Services Manager at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge. She enjoys spending time outdoors, especially when she can share it with families visiting the refuge. Cortney, her husband and their dog Coach live in Jerseyville, Ill., and she enjoys hunting, hiking and camping.